Since I’ve Been Gone

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Writing the title made Kelly Clarkson’s song play through my mind.

 

A lot has happened since my last post.  And instead of boring you with minor details, I’ll share the highlights of April to May.

“School should end after GMAS!”

Georgia Milestones, Georgia’s standardized state test, happened a week after spring break.  My students were pretty anxious about the test has its a portion of the promotion criteria for 8th grade.  To ease the worries, we focused more on mindfulness strategies and stress relieving techniques versus math content.  With the help of some parents, I cooked them breakfast the mornings of the math test to help boost their brain activity.

That was only the first hurdle.  Once testing was done, the students were mentally spent and cried, understandably, “school should end after GMAS!”  The unfortunate part was, there was still a month left of school.

My Vow to Keep Them Engaged

Full fledged choice learning was my vow to keep my students engaged.  I asked the students to choose what and how they wanted to review for the semester final based on the provided student guides.  Students worked independently or within groups on the student guides during the work session which was followed by a daily mini quiz (Mini quiz example).  Our compromise was, we worked hard Mondays through Thursdays and had a free day on Fridays.

To prevent the student guides from becoming mundane, I implemented multiple review games such as Kahoot!, Quizlet Live and my favorite Towels on the Beach.  We also did many “get up and move” kinds of activities like gallery walk task cards and desk hop.

Using What Jo Taught Me

After testing I felt I had a fresh start to try some ideas I learned from reading Mathematical Mindset that I was too impatient to wait until next year to try.  So instead of creating a study guide for our semester 2 final, I created task cards similar to what Jo discussed in Chapter 7 From Tracking to Growth Mindset Grouping.  My sources were Illustrative Mathematics, Open Middle, Georgia Frameworks, nzmaths.co.nz and the SMILE inventory referenced in the book.

Look to the Future 

My role next year is changing yet again.  I’m super excited about what’s to come.  The rationale for my class is establishing mathematical mindsets and foundations in middle school.  I’ll be working with a curriculum to fill gaps 6th through 8th grade students have in mathematics.  The entire undertone will be growth mindset.  More on this to come!

 

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You Know That Feeling?

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You know that feeling that you get when the excitement wells up on the inside of you?  I’m talking about the level of excitement that makes you want to give out the most gitty giggle you’ll only do around those most closest to you?  I felt that this past week. What made me feel that way? Choice. 

I’ve tried to make levels of choice happen in my classroom before as explained here and here. This year, inspired by a visit to a Montessori school, I’ve tried upping my level of choice for students. I’m going to explain things in reverse. 


Every student was engaged and on task completing one of the activities within the calendar.  The options were: live mini-lesson or video mini-lesson followed by a Hands-on Standards worksheet everyone was required to complete on Line of Best Fit. As I walked around observing students working in small groups, pairs or independently, I felt the excitement welling up. Before I gave off a squeal that would have reduced my cool points 😎, I calmly stated, “you all are working so well, I’m so proud of you right now.”

We worked at this level of choice all week. I’ve coined it Choice Learning and the students caught on quickly to where to go to find the activities for the day. Most of them use their phones to access the materials. I provide 2-5 iPads and a desktop computer for students who do not have their own technology. 

This is where we started.


One day a student made a comment about having choice and I ran with it. Not a wise decision in hindsight. We were reviewing for our unit assessment which covered 6 concepts. I instructed students to develop a learning plan which would be implemented over two days. For the plan students had to pick 3 concepts in which they need more practice to “sure up” their understanding. I would pick a 4 which would be based on the data from their most recent concept quiz. 

Based on their learning plan, they would pick activities to work on while I pulled small groups for remediation. It was short of a disaster. Why?  Not enough support on my part. Day one I spent most of my time working at a station trying to help students understand how to find the missing coordinate when give slope and one point. I never pulled small groups and there was ALOT of redirecting happening. 

What did I learned from all of that?

  1. Too much choice can be chaotic and overwhelming. 
  2. Have support materials for students to access helps to free me up for small group instruction. 
  3. But most importantly, assess the situation in truth and make adjustments. (Don’t just strap the idea.)

Moving Forward

Here’s the plan for next week that has me excited all over again: